It Sounds Like a Marriage
Flying to international destinations now has an added bonus. You can earn mileage points by flying on international partners" foreign airlines which have joined hands with US-based lines, then stay in "partner hotels" and utilize "partner car rentals".
It's good for everybody's business, and with the US airlines advertising their partners' routes and getting passengers to switch to related lines, everybody wins. Partnership enhances the business of each partner and offers the customers better service and the incentive of free travel.
The airlines have looked for other lines that connect with their routes, lines that will help their customers, that want their business, and offer the same quality of service their US patrons expect. These partnerships are developed through long negotiations and careful analysis of the benefits to both.
How different from takeovers and mergers that swallow up other companies, and have seriously cut back the number of major airlines in this country.
Just as secular organizations are realizing the benefits of partnerships, so are missions and churches. Tim Lewis of Frontier Missions says, "If we're looking at reaching the unreached people of the world, no single organization, no matter how powerful, how muscular it might be, has the capacity to do what needs to be done without the help of other people."
In fact, the majority of mission leaders would agree with Lewis, but making it happen in a sustained way is very hard work. Some agencies who have tried partnering have become disillusioned. They've had high aspirations and then been disappointed or were taken advantage of in the name of partnership.
Partnership can be very complex and fraught with hidden "mines" that sometimes don't blow up before the participants are well into the partnership. For that reason many fear the consequences, which might mean giving up their freedom and control, or losing their identity in a joint venture.
Yet there are enough working partnerships in the business, development and mission arena that key ingredients for success can be identified. Getting involved in partnership holds certain risks, but refusing to partner, particularly with two-thirds world churches or agencies, may mark the end of our own effectiveness in the world. "If we do not have partnership in mission," warns David Fraser, a research associate for the Mission Training and Resource Center, "we are bound to have a poverty of mission in the future." (The Church in New Frontiers for Mission, MARC, 1983)
Definition of Partnership
But what do we mean by partnership? Is it simply cooperation between people? Is it a pact to help each other accomplish a specific task?
Before looking at the ingredients for successful partnerships, it is important that we arrive at a working definition. Definitions will vary according to where the person is coming from. A Bengali development leader defined partnership as "bringing equal or nearly equal resources to bear on resolving the problems of poverty in the south [southern hemisphere]." This however, seems to be a one-sided definition, giving little opportunity to the south to contribute to the northern partner.
As a basic description, and open to review, we will define partnership in missions as:
An association of two or more autonomous bodies who have formed a trusting relationship and fulfill agreed upon expectations by sharing complementary strengths and resources, to reach their mutual goal.As we discuss the ingredients of successful partnerships, each aspect of this definition will become clearer.
Ingredients for success
1. Partners agree on doctrine and ethical behavior.
Richard taught a Bible class in his local church. His job allowed him to study while working, and since he was an avid reader, he enjoyed digging up every nuance of Greek meanings and background information of the passage.
Unfortunately Richard became very dogmatic about many aspects of biblical application, and began feeling uncomfortable with the pastor's teaching and the church's positions on a number of questions.
He sat down and made a list of 99 doctrinal points which he felt were essential if he were to continue having fellowship in the church. Though the elders agreed with most of his points—in fact all the essential ones—there were certain areas of disagreement. So, armed with his list, Richard left the church to find one that preached "the truth". Not surprisingly, after a few years of fruitless searching, Richard is back—finally willing to admit that no church could meet all his requirements.
Some Christians have a very narrow circumference of truth, beyond which they cannot comfortably associate with people who differ with them. Others who hold the same basic evangelical truths, are able to cooperate with those who differ in non-essentials.
Churches and denominations across Latin America became part of the COMIBAM movement which culminated in the historical continent-wide missions congress in Sao Paulo in November, 1987. While 80 percent of evangelicals in Latin America are charismatic, non-charismatics were essential partners in the process. Throughout the history of the church these two segments have generally not worked together. But in focusing on the great cause of mission education and mobilization, the Latin church came together from a broad doctrinal base. The continent had crossed over from being a "mission field" to a "mission force," and all evangelical Christians had great cause to celebrate.
It is essential that potential partners understand each other's doctrinal positions and believe that they, and their constituency can work comfortably together without making issues out of differences.
2. Partners share a common goal.
COMIBAM's common goal was to enthuse pastors and church leaders for missions, and to mobilize Christians to get involved in world evangelization. COMIBAM did not attempt to plan cooperative ministries or form mission agencies. Each national group would develop its own strategy, allowing for the many differences in background, doctrine and state of the church. COMIBAM met its goal because it was clear to all involved.
Partners who focus on a common objective rather than on enhancing their individual programs, will be far more successful than those whose goals are not clear. Personnel and resources will be shared, not only for the benefit of the partners but to better meet the mutual goal. Neither partner will retain ownership of its resources, nor resent the resources the other has; but rather both will rejoice that they are available to meet the common objective.
This can be especially helpful in maintaining good relationships between a funding agency and its partner ministries. When the resources used to develop donors and new sources of funding are recognized as essential to meet the partners’ common goal, they will be seen in proper perspective, rather than competing with the ministry's program needs. And perhaps donors will also begin to accept that fund-raising and administration are as necessary to reaching the common goal as literature and missionary salaries.
3. Partners must develop an attitude of equality.
To some, partnership resembles the famous "safari stew" which calls for equal parts of elephant and rabbit—one elephant and one rabbit.
Equal partnership seems impossible, since the West with its resources of money, technology, personnel and training is represented by the elephant. How can a Third World church or agency feel equal with such a behemoth for a partner?
Yet the cry for equality is repeated almost without exception whenever Third World leaders are asked about partnership. Neither side seems to understand the true meaning of equality. The West considers itself as "having arrived" in relation to its "developing" partners. Two-thirds world Christians feel inferior with little to offer, or so they think.
The problem lies with our understanding of equality which has little to do with size, amount of resources or power. Rather equality has everything to do with attitudes, values and status. Unfortunately we place an extremely high value on tangibles like money, education, and technology. But the Scripture places little value on these. In fact, rather than being a value, money becomes simply a tool at best, and a temptation at worst.
Secular development organizations struggle with the concepts of value too. They have recognized that the understanding of what will work in a culture, for example, affects the success of a project even more than money, and the local people have that ability.
Funds overvalued here
Flying low over the coast of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, one sees flocks of pink flamingoes which add the only touch of color to the drab desert landscape. The grass huts of the Turkana blend into the terrain, and only the dark shapes of people moving along the desert trails give any evidence of life.
Then suddenly a factory looms out of the vastness , a mammoth steel grey structure surrounded by high chain link fences. But closer observation reveals nothing else—no people, no vehicles, no activity.
A well-meaning development agency spent thousands of dollars erecting a fish processing plant on the shores of Lake Turkana to provide a livelihood for the nomadic Turkanas. But the people could have told them that the project was doomed to failure. During drought conditions spawning grounds dry up and there are few fish in the lake. And once the drought conditions end so that the people can move their cattle away from government wells, they return to their nomadic existence. Besides that, by the time the frozen fish were transported several hundred miles to Nairobi, the costs were so astronomical no one could afford to buy them.
Ridiculous as this may sound, Christian organizations have been known to finance and promote projects just as unsuitable to the spiritual environment. Cultural wisdom and understanding is just one of the intangible values that give third-world partners equal status with their Western counterparts.
Attributes of equality
Third World Christian leaders want to be recognized as spiritual equals not only before God, but with their partners. Through its extraordinary experiences of mighty prayer (i.e. Korea), suffering (i.e. Eastern Europe) and martyrdom (i.e. China), the church around the world has demonstrated spiritual maturity from which the western church can learn and be blessed.
Partners desire to be recognized as equal in self-hood and potential for maturity in Christ. Each partner must see himself or herself as made in God's image for His purpose. Partners in ministry, just as men and women, are equal before God while differing in nature and function.
An attitude of equality requires that partners respect each other, listen to each other, learn from each other and trust each other. A national leader complained to his partner agency in North America, "We listen; we follow. That's not partnership."
Unintentionally western churches sometimes treat great national Christian leaders disrespectfully. Nationals participated in the missions conference of a large church. In their own countries these Christian leaders directed large seminaries, served as heads of denominations, and spoke at international congresses. But they complained the missions conference made a spectacle of them. Asked to appear in "native costume" (which they never wear at home), they were given only ten minutes to tell a dramatic or shocking story and to summarize the impact of their ministry.
While western partners need to continue to develop respect for and acceptance of their third-world partners, these partners must also grow in their respect and acceptance of western values such as the need for careful reporting and regular accounting.
An attitude of equality is a two-way street, and can only be achieved in conjunction with the following essential ingredient.
4. Partnership avoids dominance of one over the other.
Who makes the decisions?
Who draws up policies?
Who controls the resources?
These are the questions two-thirds world leaders are asking when evaluating partnerships. If the answer is the "donor or sending agency" then there is serious doubt that this is a viable partnership.
Of course, partnership has been a gradual development, and where there has been a long history of relationships, roles have changed. Just as in a family, parents dominate during the early years of childhood, gradually releasing controls until the children achieve full maturity. And then one day they find themselves calling the children up on the phone to ask their advice about a decision they're facing in their work or about our finances—and they realize their children are adults.
Unfortunately, mission history is replete with illustrations of agencies who feel their "child" is in a perpetual state of adolescence. When they did turn over churches and institutions it was a painful wrenching experience instead of joyfully unleashing them to develop their own capabilities.
You build it, you fix it
Dominance encourages dependency—in children and in ministries. In Africa a missionary put up a church building for a growing congregation. A few years later the mission superintendent visited the church and noticed that the roof was leaking badly. He didn't say anything, assuming that the elders were making plans to fix it. A year later he returned again, to find the roof in even worse state of disrepair. The missionary asked the church leaders, "Why don't you fix the roof?"
The rather shocking reply was, "You built it, you fix it."Though this is a rare instance, it does illustrate how dependency robs people of opportunity to exercise their gifts and leads to apathy.
Joint decision making at the grass roots level can be fairly easily
worked out. But who makes decisions, designs policy and determines funding
at the board levels becomes more complex.
If each organization in the partnership is autonomous, should representatives from each board serve on the other partner's board? Do donors' designations promote dominance by the funding board? What decisions must be considered by all partners, and what decisions should be handled independently?
These "sticky wickets" have no easy answers, and partners in the West and two-thirds world have complaints and suggestions about how it's working in their partnerships. The tendency to dominate in western agencies, and the desire for total freedom from controls and restrictions on the part of two-thirds world partners need to be worked at continually. And this will only happen if there is open and frequent communication.
5. Partnership requires open communication.
In his book Megatrends, Naisbitt described the trends that were shaping the 80s. He listed the change from an industrial society to an information society as number one. In Megatrends 2000 he reiterates, "the growth in information has only quickened."
Living in an information age vitally affects partnerships which have virtually become "information exchanges". Without this exchange it will become more and more difficult to maintain partnerships.
Unfortunately the pace of information exchange has accelerated in the West, and while some urban two-thirds world ministries can provide this increased information, others are lagging sadly behind. In the West sending information is almost equivalent to "faxing it." But national leaders living in rural areas of their countries are often without telephone, or even reliable postal service. In some cases, especially in Muslim countries, they dare not report on their ministries for fear the mail will be intercepted.
Add to these technical difficulties are the inherent differences in communications systems. International partners need great sensitivity in communicating cross-culturally. The Chinese value of face-saving, the African circuitous route at arriving at an issue and the western direct, confrontational type of communication can be on a collision course.
Since misunderstanding can so easily arise in cross-cultural communication, it is essential that partners communicate frequently, freely and personally in order to avoid misunderstanding. It has been said that "misinformation thrives in a vacuum."
At Partners International's official International Conference in 1987, partnership was discussed openly, revealing many misconceptions and unfulfilled expectations. We learned that actions we'd taken, such as appointing regional coordinators, were seen as unilateral decisions. National leaders felt they should have had a voice in implementing such a major policy.
At the same conference we were able to share some of our frustrations because of lack of timely reports. We explained increasing demands for information from donors and supporting churches; of the embarrassment we face when missions committees ask for information and the data in our files is more than six months old. We were able to tell them why this information is necessary and how it is used, not just to maintain our credibility, but to further our common goals.
These gatherings are costly in time and money, but they are invaluable in the nurturing of the partnership into a more effective relationship.
However, conferences cannot take the place of personal contact. When our mission was smaller, then President Allen Finley travelled frequently to the fields, spending time regularly with each ministry. He and his wife Ruth knew each national personally, and were able to express love and attention. If a new baby arrived in a national's home, Ruth wrote a warm card of welcome. When a national leader married, a little gift would be carried to them on the next trip overseas. Such attention becomes more difficult as the number of ministries and nationals increases.
We recognize the importance of personal contact not only on the family level, but in order to communicate one to one to keep the channels open. We still give international visits high priority but have not been able to get to all ministries as frequently as we'd like. On a recent visit to Nigeria by one of our staff, the leader of our partner ministry there expressed, "We've missed visits from headquarters."
When national leaders visit the international headquarters, they meet with everyone on the staff with whom they've been dealing over the years. This face-to-face communication makes it easier to share victories and frustrations in the partnership.
Sometimes our partner leaders will frankly discuss our operations and make suggestions, even about our fund-raising methods. Sharing these insights is part of partnership. "We share our hearts with each other, rather than just keeping quiet," said one leader.
One area of communication that is particularly sensitive is accountability. It is also one of the essential ingredients of partnership.
6. Partners demonstrate trust and accountability.
Dr. Brandt's observations may be wise counsel for parents and teenagers, but two-thirds world Christian leaders are not adolescents needing to be protected. They should be recognized as mature, godly men and women who have the same spiritual resources for righteous living and wise judgments as their Western counterparts. On the other hand, two-thirds world partners will have to be careful not to arbitrarily accuse western agencies of covering up ulterior motives.
A trust relationship grows out of a properly formed partnership, for the ingredients of confidence are built into the initial understanding of each other's potential, and agreements of what each expects of the other. In almost all the models of partnership we'll be looking at later in this book, partner organizations have drawn up written agreements and guidelines.
Careful partner selection is critical. There must be a sense of God's direction, and a conviction that the Holy Spirit is leading both parties into the relationship. Boards, goals and objectives, administrative structures and financial policies should be analyzed by both. Obligations to each other have to be clearly spelled out so there is no misunderstanding later.
Several years ago a western and third-world ministry were considering a partnership in Peru. However, as the Peruvian leaders studied what would be expected of them, they decided they would not be comfortable in the partnership and withdrew their application. Such careful analysis during the selection process avoids a mismatch.
Accountability does not imply mistrust.
Accountability, as the flip side of trust, is built into these agreements. It is difficult to trust anyone who is unwilling to be accountable; while it is humiliating to be accountable to someone who does not trust us.
Accountability is scriptural. No one could fault Paul for honesty and integrity. Yet he rejoiced that the churches had appointed "a brother" to travel with him when he carried a substantial gift for the Jerusalem Christians who were experiencing hardship.
Paul recognized the need for accountability, especially in the eyes of people who might suspect a misuse of funds.
He writes, "We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift. For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men." (2 Cor. 8:20,21)
Not only are non-Christians ready to pounce upon any misstep a Christian might make, governments are scrutinizing funding procedures more carefully. While in the past two-thirds world partners have not been required to make the same in-depth reports that the IRS and agencies in other Western countries demand, more and more non-western governments are demanding strict reporting of outside funds received.
So important is accountability that the World Evangelical Fellowship is studying the formation of an Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) organization on an international scale.
Accountability of time and money not only helps partners maintain trust but gives opportunity for rejoicing in God's work and provision. Monitoring freely opens doors and books to partner representatives. These visits also enable visitors to see new potential for growth and can unearth problems which ministry leaders themselves may not see because of their closeness to the situation. Mark Hanon, who wrote Growth Partnering, an American Management Association publication, says that partners must know the roles they are expected to play and set up control systems to monitor achievement. "Attaining each milestone on plan," he writes, "announces the partnership is working."
Western partners need to be transparent in their reporting of fund-raising and expenses to their partners as well as to their constituency and donors. Lack of trust and poor accountability on either side will destroy a partnership.
7. Partners must have clear financial policies.
The greatest obstacle to partnership is that the church in the West has too much of the money. Though money is only one of many shared elements in a partnership, it wields a disproportionate power, primarily because it is over-valued.
The New Testament church grew and multiplied, taught and suffered with little reference to trained leadership, budgets and buildings. As we have already stated, money clouds the issue of equality, since it too frequently becomes the dominant factor in a partnership.
A mission leader in the West complained, "Since we control almost all the money, they [two-thirds world churches and agencies] almost push us into positions of power because we have it."
On the other hand, a national development leader expressed the quandary of two-thirds world organizations. "If a man has his hand in another man's pocket, he has to move when the other man moves."
With such potential for misunderstanding, a wise financial policy is an essential ingredient for effective partnerships in ministry. There was a period in missions history when giving financial aid was discouraged because it would "spoil" the national church, and deprive it of the joy of stewardship. Though this can certainly happen if funds are not carefully and judiciously given, the New Testament clearly teaches responsibility of family members for those in need in the family. Recognizing the financial inequalities between churches, Paul urges the Corinthians to give so that "at the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need." (2 Cor. 8:13)
Keep money in perspective
How can partners keep money from being a source of power, and skewing the partnership out of shape? If a foolproof answer had been reached, there would be a lot more successful partnerships in missions and development.
Out of years of working through this issue, and countless hours of discussion and analysis, several clear guidelines for keeping money in proper perspective have emerged.
This does not limit the responsibilities of being good stewards nor the necessity for accountability—both are built-in safeguards in this fallen world.
Western agencies and churches need to continue working towards open communications about funding policies and practice trust and non-interference in internal budgets and financial policies of their third-world partners.
Conversely, third-world leaders will have to recognize that costs of administration, fund-raising policies and donor communications are essential parts of the financial obligations of the Western agency which generally fall into the sphere of the agency's decision making. Both partners must follow agreed-upon guidelines as to use and reporting of funds.
They appreciate us as their partners—but they also feel they have helped to raise funds and prayer support, and thus diffuse some of the one-sided power they felt we had.
8. True partnership demands sharing of complementary gifts.
The motivation for partnership goes beyond charity, stewardship or even a commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission. True partnership grows out of the realization that accomplishing the latter cannot be done alone; that we lack certain gifts, skills or resources to complete the task. But we recognize that by combining our strengths with those of others we can do the job God wants us to do.
When Derk Van Konynenburg decided he needed a partner in his farming business, it was not because he wanted to share the profits or to help John make a better living. Derk needed John's skills and expertise, and he wanted the freedom that a shared work load and responsibility would give him.
One partner contributes strengths to the partnership that the other does not have, in order to reach the common goal. Paul, our biblical illustration of a model partner in ministry, stressed the importance of differing gifts. He reminded the Roman Christians, "In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts according to the grace given us" (125-6).
Interdependence leads to maturity
The eye and the brain work together to perceive the world around us. While we can live without an eye, what a difference it makes to our understanding of that world. In the same way, our national partners could function without our resources or skills, but what a difference our contributions can make in their expansion or effectiveness.
However, as long as western partners see themselves as only channels for funds or other resources, the partnership remains immature. It is only as we become interdependent upon each other, each offering what the other needs, each receiving what the other gives, that the partnership is truly mature.
A young South African who works on the streets of Johannesburg with
tough drop-outs from society told an American audience, "There's no way
that you could walk those streets and rap with those kids like I and my
team can. There's no way you could build a trust relationship so that they
would listen to your message of Christ. You need us to do what you know
needs to be done."
While that is true, the ministry needed funds to launch the program in the community, and a partner who would place confidence in the program during its early stages of trial and error. Both members of the partnership took risks and invested its unique strengths in order to see their goal accomplished.
It may sound strange, but western agencies NEED overseas ministries in order to justify and maintain their existence. And the non-western agency or church NEEDS the help of the western agency to expand or reach out to new areas. Just as Adam NEEDED a helpmeet to fulfill his manhood (and conversely Eve needed Adam to fulfill her womanhood) so the western and non-western churches need each other to fulfill the Great Commission.
We fulfill each other best in marriage as we complement each other's gifts, compensating for each other's weakness and capitalizing on each other's strengths. So partners in ministry are most effective when they bring complementary gifts to the relationship. Then together we comprise an effective whole.
These resources and skills need not necessarily be equal in quantity or quality, but they must be recognized by both partners as equal in value .
Each partnership will require different resources and strengths, and that's why it's so important to carefully evaluate the relationship before entering into a partnership. For example, An agency, which supports nationals in one country, does not send western missionaries overseas. A Third World ministry that needs the skills of western workers from its partner would do better forming a partnership with an organization that specializes as a sending agency.
Special contributions of western and non-western churches
What are the unique strengths that the western and non-western church have to offer each other in complementary partnerships? What do we have to offer to fulfill each other in ministry?
The western church's strengths which can complement the non-western church's efforts:
9. Partnership demands sacrificial commitment.
It hardly seems necessary to list commitment as a basic ingredient of successful partnerships, since all the other ingredients seem to require commitment as a foregone conclusion. But partnership is fragile at best, and misunderstandings and miscommunications arise easily, especially across geographical and cultural distances. Each partner must have a deep sense of commitment to the other and a desire and willingness to give the benefit of the doubt when difficulties arise.
The partnership will not only be attacked internally but unfortunately outsiders are often free to attack the credibility of one partner to the other.
A national ministry came under such an attack from respected Christian leaders within the country. Accusations of misuse of funds for personal gain were made. As stewards of funds given, often sacrificially by God's people, we must view such accusations seriously. But the western partner's commitment to the ministry and the recognition of the broad influence it had on the life of the church in the host country, demanded that it thoroughly investigate and personally confront the leader. It took travel and time on the part of our staff to sort out the problem and reconfirm the commitment.
It is sometimes difficult, on the other hand, for national ministries to confront or to express criticisms of their partner, especially one that controls major funding for the ministry. The two-thirds world partner needs to develop a sense of commitment to the well-being and future of the partner agency, and be willing to take risks to help the partner grow and correct weaknesses. As mentioned earlier, it is essential that a forum for personal confrontation and discussion be built into the partnership.
Commitment to de-partner
While there is generally a need for long-term commitment in a partnership, unlike marriage, partnerships in ministry should include a de-partnering process when the mutual goal has been reached. Or the partnership should make mid-course corrections that will target new goals, and perhaps change the contributions each makes to the partnership.
One of the greatest weakness of West/non-West partnerships is the danger of dependency upon western funds. Through the partnership help should be given to develop local funds. If the original partnership agreement includes a decrease of western funding within a certain time period, both partners can work towards that goal.
OPPORTUNITIES INTERNATIONAL makes it clear to its autonomous national boards that grants for business loans will cease after five years. During that time it is committed to doing everything it can to enable the board to become fully independent. By the end of five years it is expected that the returns on investments should provide enough resources for the board to continue functioning and making loans to small businesses. The partnership then continues on fellowship basis, where OPPORTUNITIES offers training seminars to continue to encourage the completely independent boards to stay on course.
If de-partnering is not built into the original partnership understanding, dissolution of the partnership could be painful. For example, a national partner ministry decided that it could have greater freedom and less requirements to fulfill if it partnered directly with a major supporting church in the West. The leader simply informed its North American partner of the accomplished change, leaving the partner the task of explaining this to other donors, and rebuilding its credibility for other programs. When a ministry becomes independent because it has generated local support, both partners can rejoice. But without a sense of commitment to the western partner on the part of the national ministry, there is the temptation to look for "a better deal" because of the many contacts the national leader may now have in the West.
On the other hand, when there are no de-partnering criteria, national partners can also feel insecure. They may wonder if boards are going to change policies which will affect their status. When a representative of the agency comes to visit on a monitoring trip, there may be the fear that he will announce withdrawal of funds or personnel.
Both partners must be committed to each other, willing to take risks and make sacrifices to build the other up. But that commitment should have its parameters clearly spelled out, and re-evaluated periodically to ensure that there are no unnecessary shocks, or that the partnership continues long after its usefulness has worn out.
10. Partners pray for each other.
Johannes spent six weeks on deputation in the United States. Within the first week he had a call from his wife in Africa to say she'd had an accident. She was unhurt, but the car had been totaled. Then a cable arrived from his board that the bank had stopped payment on checks because the account had been overdrawn. He was torn between his homesickness and concern for the state of his ministry, and his need to garner prayer and financial support from friends in the United States.
Week after week he spoke in churches, met with missions committees, held home meetings. Sometimes he felt that he couldn't set up the projector and screen and look at his slide set one more time. And though people expressed interest in his vital ministry, and responded warmly to his message, few made any concrete commitments. How could he go home empty handed, knowing how his family and his staff were depending on him to relieve the pressures?
But while Johannes traveled from church to church, seeing little result, his colleagues in his western partner agency were praying against his discouragement and for provision for the specific needs—a replacement for his demolished car, and the overdraft at the bank.
The last night before he flew home he stayed with one of the staff families. Over the dinner table they discussed these urgent needs, and once again prayed for God's provision.
The next morning Johannes took all his belongings to the office for he was to fly out for Africa that afternoon. He anticipated the reunion with his family and staff with mixed emotions—he was homesick to see them, but he had little to bring them.
That morning another partner staff member returned to the office after a weekend meeting where, at the last minute, she'd filled in for another national who'd been unable to be there. She had stayed in the home of a Christian businessman, and in the discussion after the meeting shared some of the needs of the national leaders. The businessman's heart responded, and he wanted to become involved. He promised a generous donation, including $16,000 for Johannes’ ministry. The news came just hours before he left for the airport. Johannes could have flown home that afternoon "without a plane".
Over and over such answers to prayer are part of the exciting experience of serving God. Prayer is the single most important contribution we can make to our partners—the most important ingredient in our partnership.
An couple, both medical doctors, run a medical ministry where Hindu leaders are fanatically anti-Christian. The doctor has been called before the magistrate accused of "converting a Hindu" by promising him financial gain. A Hindu political organization has built its headquarters near the clinic so it can keep its eyes on what goes on, and warn patients not to listen to the doctor's religion. Totally surrounded by heathenism of the most oppressive kind, this couple meets each evening after their long day in the clinics for family prayers with their children. They know they must tap the spiritual resources of prayer to face the daily testings in their ministry, and they depend on the prayers of their partners overseas. In spite of the weight of opposition to them, each evening they pray for the needs and spiritual empowerment of their supporting partners and send messages of encouragement when they learn of family or personal trials.
The value of such prayers cannot be counted, and certainly never taken lightly. Prayer implements partnership no matter what the distance geographically and culturally. Each partner benefits. It's the one ingredient of partnership in which there need be no imbalance—one that each can contribute to the other. Partners in ministry know something of Paul's emotions when he wrote, "I pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel."
The examples of partnership in missions described in the chapters ahead will demonstrate how these ingredients of partnership come into play, more in some than in others. There's still much to learn, and more to implement of what we already know. But without question we've entered a new, exciting, and perhaps last era of missions, where we're working together to build the Kingdom.
John* was seldom without pain as long as he could remember. He would never have had any medical care if it weren't for his father who had gone to the Arabian Gulf to work as a cook. For John and his family came from the lowest of the low, outcastes, with little opportunities for jobs or education.
Yet John's father dreamed that his son would become an evangelist, even when the doctors said he was too weak to study, to work or to marry. God miraculously touched his body, and for a number of years he was strong enough to complete his studies and to marry the educated Christian "Harijan" (outcaste) girl his father had found for him. And always there was the burden for his own people which drove John to the ends of his strength.
In 1914 another evangelist had had that same burden, and through his witness and love for the people, he had established the Bible Believers Mission* with more than 80 churches among the outcastes. For the most part they met in simple mud and thatch houses of worship, which also served as schools for the impoverished, undernourished children when their parents could afford to release them from the fields where they worked for heavy taskmasters. Life was hard—with scarcely enough food for the families even when every able bodied adult and child worked from sunrise to sunset. And then there were the long weeks when the harvest was over, and there was no work, and children came to school gaunt and ragged and hungry.
John's family had been part of the Bible Believers Mission—and had sorrowed
when hundreds turned their back on the church to "reconvert
to Hinduism". National law had declared special privileges for Harijans—education,
job training, etc.—but not if they were Christians.
By the time John finished Bible training there were only six struggling Bible Believers Mission churches and hundreds of villages without a gospel witness in the area.
John's burden was to take up the leadership of Bible Believers Mission and to develop a church-planting ministry among the Harijans. Who would help him? The people in the remaining churches were laborers, earning less than $1 a day when they could find work. There were no other trained leaders; in fact few of the people were literate.
His father who had been his only source of support for many years was growing old and weak and would soon have to retire. John's own physical problems had returned and he needed co-workers who could travel to distant villages and carry on the work when he was bed-ridden. In spite of these immense obstacles, John took up the challenge.
Then a leading evangelical, whom John had gotten to know at Bible school, told him about an organization in the west that assisted indigenous national ministries. He encouraged John to apply and after months of negotiations and a visit from a headquarters staff person, a new partnership was formed.
This story is illustrative of many of the ministries Partners International assists. Allen Finley, president emeritus who led the organization for 27 years, testifies, "God has given us gifted leaders who bring dynamic direction to the commitments we have in partnership with thousands of national evangelists, church planters and cross-cultural missionaries."
Over a 47-year-history, Partners International has developed guidelines and policies for partnership which are still being refined.
Each of the more than 60 partner ministries differs in background, structure and goals. These are not a group of homogeneous churches which have been spawned by a mission, but a variety of ministries in almost 40 countries, most of which grew out of the burden and call of the Holy Spirit to meet a need. The ministries vary from a Bible school in the opium-producing Golden Triangle of Thailand to a TEE program for pastors and layleaders in Tanzania. Though all operate under national boards, some have a dynamic visionary in charge who leads from the front, while others, such as ACRI in the Philippines, runs its youth centers by a strong board of lay people.
To bring order out of what could be chaos, Partners International has developed a careful selection process, working agreements with each ministry, and a monitoring and enablement program carried out by national regional coordinators.
Through the selection process both members of the partnership carefully look each other over. Some national ministries feel Partners International's requirements are too demanding or limiting and decide not to form a partnership.
The selection process takes anywhere from a few months to a year and answers the following questions:
Partners International also evaluates whether the ministry is strategic
in the country or area, and what difference it makes in the growth of the
Kingdom. For example, would expanding a Bible school in an area that already
has a proliferation of Bible schools really help to build the national
Operation Lighthouse is transferable, but national ministries that are
too dependent upon western technology and expertise, or too oriented to
western philosophies of ministry are very difficult to multiply indefinitely.
As the church grew, so did the need for more trained leadership, especially
as many of the young people began moving to the coastal cities. Partners
International formed a partnership with the independent church to help
train and develop these leaders.
In the past it might have been difficult for national ministries to find answers to these questions about Partners International. But as the world grows smaller and the Christian community more interrelated, national partners will be asking more and more of these and other questions before entering into a partnership.
Once the "courtship" is over and both sides agree they would like to develop a partnership, a written working agreement is developed. Partners International has a generic agreement (see appendix) which is a working base for the national board and the national regional coordinator to work through carefully.
Some prospective partners decide they do not want to be bound by the mission's expectations such as annual audited financial statements, three annual letters from each sponsored worker, ministry information forms completed, deputation requirements, and regulations about requesting funds of other organizations in countries where Partners International has a fund-raising council.
What Partners International Expects
Basically Partners International expects the partner to live up to the working agreements. Most partners make every effort to do so, writing prayer letters and reports faithfully and sending audited financial statements annually.
These are not always easy to fulfill. Ministries which have a large number of sponsored staff must see that letters are written at the appropriate time, translated into English if necessary, and mailed to the Partners International headquarters in California. Sometimes letters are lost. Occasionally nationals fear that prying officials in hostile countries might intercept the letters and thus jeopardize the ministry, so they are very cautious about what they report.
One African leader complained about the many requests for information from Partners International "I wish the Lord could provide money so we could hire someone to sit down and do the paperwork on our behalf. We started out as preachers, full of zeal for the work of the Lord . . . . We may not be able to fulfill all the writings that you expect from us."
But while this is a recurring complaint, Partners International realizes that donors and prayer partners deserve information as they continue to be involved in these ministries. In fact, in recent years churches and individual donors have increased their expectations of reports and letters. But staff sometimes go to national partners "hat in hand" asking for one more report, knowing how busy they are.
Partners' expectations of its national partners are reviewed regularly through an established monitoring process. This is not simply an evaluation of accomplishments and procedures, but an opportunity for the leader and board together with the regional coordinator to assess "how are we doing?" and "what will help us do better?"
Four "confidence factors" are part of this regular monitoring process.
1. The partner ministry must have a governing board that is informed,
A regional coordinator and several Partners International staff met with an African board related to a ministry where accountability and use of designated gifts were in question. As the very capable and experienced board of men and women listened to the discussion, a government official on the board interjected, "I see, you are expecting us to be an operational rather than an advisory board. We'll have to decide whether we can take that responsibility."
In this case since the board members had great confidence in the leader, they had been more or less rubber stamping his decisions. But as the problems and needs of the work were openly discussed, they recognized that he needed their expertise, advice, and more of their control.
In strongly hierarchical cultures where leadership is vested with a great deal of power, the acceptance of the concept of "governing boards" over leaders often requires an educational process. As long as Partners International sees this process developing it increases its confidence factor in the ministry.
2. The partner ministry must have goals and objectives that are clear,
This western business concept has now permeated the world, but two-thirds world ministries sometimes still have problems setting goals.
For example, a principal of a graduate school overseas told his faculty, "I don't know how you can say that the Holy Spirit is going to bring 200 new students to us in the next five years, but," shaking his head with a wry grin he added, "if you say so, I guess it's all right with me."
Many national leaders and their boards appreciate training and help in setting goals and objectives for their ministries. As the staff of Partners International sees this effort growing, their confidence factor increases.
3. The partner ministry must have policies and procedures which guarantee
funds are being spent for the purpose for which they were given. They must include
appropriate accounting and financial management procedures.
This pressure comes not only from Partners International but from their governments. In some countries, for example, ministries must turn in detailed accounts of all overseas funds received. No overseas money may be used for any publications purposes, so if a ministry has a magazine or other publications, it must make sure to keep funds in separate accounts.
On a number of occasions our regional coordinator, has been able to sort out the confusion and intricate government requirements and save a ministry penalties and even forfeiture of funds.
When projects are in process, donors require pictures and updates to know what their funds are accomplishing. Keeping these reports flowing and providing a clear, well organized financial statement annually increases our confidence factor.
4. The partner ministry must have the personnel necessary to put
into practice its
policies and procedures.
With the growing number of trained Christian workers around the world, this should be less and less of a problem. Often our partnership makes the difference between having sufficient qualified staff and operating with a skeleton crew.
Project 2000, a Partners International-sponsored program which enables nationals to plant churches in unreached areas, opened the door for many ministries which had longingly discussed sending an evangelist or team into such an area. They even knew the right people to do the job, people who felt the call for such pioneer work. But there were simply no funds available to add another worker.
With Project 2000 the partner ministries were encouraged to research these unreached communities. What kind of people lived there? What kind of approach would be best to enter the community? Knowing something of the cultural and religious climate of the area, how long would it take to plant a church? What would it cost to keep a worker or workers there for that period of time?
When these Unreached Peoples Profiles are returned to headquarters, Partners International finds churches and individuals in North America eager to underwrite them and can then inform the ministry, "Hire your workers; send them into the new village; God has raised up a special partner for your need."
As the staffs of dedicated and capable workers develop so that the work can carry on effectively, our confidence factor increases.
What do the national ministries expect?
Since the Bible Believers Mission began receiving assistance from Partners International, the board has taken on 25 church planters, and in the past eight years more than 30 churches have been established.
When a staff member from the Partners International office visited John, he proudly took them to a little print shop in town. "I was able to purchase the press with a small loan from the government," he explained. Never mind that the press was an old lead-type, hand-operated machine, high in manpower and low in quality. The shop provided several jobs for Harijan families, and the profits paid for a magazine for the churches. Young people are reading now and John felt it was time that the Harijans had their first magazine written by and for them.
The Bible Believers Mission hired its staff, started churches, made
a loan, purchased equipment and started a small business and magazine,
all without reference to Partners International. These ministry decisions
are theirs to make and if the projects fail, they deal with them themselves.
That's the way the nationals like it.
Allocation of funds
While national ministries are responsible for internal funding, they send additional budget requests and project needs for approval to the coordinating office of Partners International. They would LIKE to see those budgets and projects fully funded. But they are also aware that Partners International must raise these funds by approaching churches, individuals and foundations with the needs. There is no funding pool just waiting to be divided up as requested. Thus, on the basis of general income, health of the ministry's account and a sense of God's leading, the international team must decide whether all or a percentage of the budget can be provided in the coming year.
National boards also understand that Partners International itself has expenses for staff, communications, fund raising, financial management, field travel, and whatever it takes to service their needs. While these funds are generally raised by missionaries as part of their support package in traditional agencies, Partners International covers its expenses primarily from a percentage taken from each ministry's funds.
An in-depth survey of over 500 Christian non-profit organizations in the United States revealed that support service expenses average 20-25% of income. Partners International are three to eight percent below the average mission agency (Christopher Robinson, College of Professional Studies, University of San Francisco, January, 1990).
Communication the key
National leaders don't expect to become involved in internal affairs at Partners International, except when major decisions which affect their ministries are made. This fact came to light very clearly when the newly-appointed Regional Coordinators were introduced at the International Conference of Partners International in 1987. At this joint gathering of the national leaders, dissatisfaction surfaced about what was seen as a "unilateral decision". "We should have been consulted," was the general cry.
Since then two national leaders have been added to the international
board to give greater voice to national ministries in such situations—another
step forward in the partnership learning process.
Missions such as World-Wide Mission, Christian Aid and others have also grappled with fine-tuning partnerships with national ministries. More and more organizations are finding this can be one of the most gratifying relationships.
Two-thirds world cultures tend to be more relational than western cultures are. When asked what they expect of partnership national leaders respond:
"Partnership is not supposed to be one way. It's a two-way partnership, exchanging ideas, staff, information and resources."
"We shouldn't write off people when they do not do things the way we do them. In that we may be losing each other in the relationship. . . there needs to be sensitivity."
"People from headquarters used to come and sit down and talk with us, and make us feel like a brother . . . paperwork is good, but we believe in the personal touch."
"Folks up there—the staff and board—should listen to what we say and then ask, 'How can we get together on those ideas?'"
Meeting the expectations
Obviously with such a wide divergence of people and cultures, and with the heavy pressures of keeping national ministries and prayer and financial partners satisfied, Partners International staff will not be able to meet all the expectations.
But he is trying. "V.," as he is affectionately known, grew up in a Christian home, and had the benefit of an excellent education. He earned his Ph.D. in Geology from Osmania University and later was a Fulbright scholar at Northwestern University. He served with the government Department of Science and Technology and the National Institute of Oceanography while working as head of the department of geology at the university in Hyderabad. He and his Ph.D. candidate students were instrumental in discovering oil which helped change the country from being 70 percent dependent on foreign oil to only 20 percent. He also was involved in the discovery of the largest vein of coal in the country.
But through these years of success and accomplishments, Dr. Vijayam had a driving desire to serve God. For many years he served on one committee after another, generously giving of his time to such organizations as Youth for Christ, YMCA and the Hindustan Bible Seminary. But deep in his heart he wanted to fulfill his evangelist father's dream and go into full-time ministry.
In June 1988 V. took early retirement from the University of Hyderabad to become Regional Coordinator for Partners International. In this capacity he would be able to help, build up, pray with and evaluate the ten partner ministries in surrounding countries which are associated with Partners International.
V. had another dream. In his spare time he had
worked on a series of agricultural experiments to enable impoverished villagers
to develop a livelihood. He'd studied self-help projects, and knew,
for example, how to point starving cobblers into a more lucrative home-tanning
business. (Only certain Hindu castes, will work with leather.)
Having had a lot of experience with government agencies over the years, he not only understood government policies, but knew influential people upon whom he could call for advice.
And through the years he'd become an astute student of the Word of God, able to teach and apply its truths in the culture simply but profoundly.
V. cared deeply about the partner ministries with which he worked. On his first visit to the Bible Believers Mission he noted John's pain and extreme exhaustion, even as he took him from one village church to another. He urged John to go to the hospital and consider heart surgery which could now possibly correct the problem he'd suffered from all these years. Over John's resistance, the professor made arrangements for him to travel the several hundred miles to the hospital. Then he contacted the Partners International headquarters asking for prayer and to be alerted that surgery may be forthcoming and that funds would be needed.
Prayer partners in the USA rallied around John, providing funds for the surgery (about 1/10th the cost it would have been in the USA), and praying for him during the months of his set-back and recovery. V. himself made the 700-mile trip to the hospital to visit John. And after his recovery, V. and another Christian professor spent a week teaching the Bible Believers Mission workers. These Harijan Christians were overwhelmed that high caste men—men of such wisdom and stature—would bother to come and train them.
The Bible Believers Mission really exists under another name—and it is but one of a network of indigenous ministries, led by godly men and women whom God has endowed with vision for His work. Partnership with them fulfills our greatest expectations.
Church to Church and Church to Mission Partnerships
Church to Church partnerships
As the baby-boomers become more prominent in the leadership and financial growth of the church, their tendency for individualism and desire to control their own destiny affects even church mission strategies. A study of baby-boomers indicates that they are generally more interested in solving the problems of poverty and injustice close to home than in foreign missions. They are more likely to respond to a person they know than the needs of millions they don't know.
A missions pastor in a mega-church observes, "We looked at the age group behind our missions program. It's not the forty and under group. They are not interested in missions, nor are they supporting it."
Some churches are finding that forming a partnership with a sister-church in a restricted country is a way to stir up mission interest in the baby-boomer generation and give them opportunity for involvement on a personal level.
Meanwhile several mission agencies have sprung up in the late eighties
with a special concern for the Christians in restricted countries and where
minority Christians feel isolated and vulnerable.
Issachar established its ENOSIS program as an outgrowth of the Lausanne congress in Manila in 1989 to develop an international sister-church partnership movement. ENOSIS means to link two parties to form a strong bond.
Issachar believes the problems of access to restricted people, as well
as language and cultural barriers, can be counteracted by a link between
western churches and two-thirds world churches in those areas. The churches
in turn need help with training, materials and finances.
By bringing leaders and lay people of the two churches together through visits back and forth, it is envisioned that each would learn from and pray for the other. Eventually the two churches would cooperate in an outreach program. The mission experience and vision of a western church is one of the prime contributions it could make to its sister church. In the meantime, the western church benefits tremendously from the interaction with Christians who have suffered and lived in a society hostile to Christianity.
In planning to launch such a sister church program, Rev. Val Hayworth, missions pastor of the Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, admits one of the motivating factors is to mobilize the younger leaders in the church. "We have identified about twenty families in the fellowship who are influential movers and proving themselves in ministry," Hayworth explains. "We're asking them to consider making a trip to visit the Russian church at their own expense."
Elmbrook Church will provide cross-cultural training to prepare the travelers for their visit to the Soviet Union. The process will take a number of years, with five or six annual visits to the sister-church, and bringing a Soviet church leader to spend some time observing church-life at Elmbrook.
"Our ultimate objective," says Hayworth, "is to hold a cooperative evangelistic thrust after a few years, where the two churches together will target a group. We might provide training for special ministries such as women or children."
But Hayworth, and Issachar, insist the relationship is not financially driven. The church is under no financial obligation, other than to keep the communication and visitation going. They recognize that there will undoubtedly be requests for financial assistance, and policies need to be agreed upon from the beginning if the partnership is to be successful.
Another sister-church organization, ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times), founded by award-winning journalist, Dan Wooding, initially targeted a "twinning" relationship with churches in Cuba and Nicaragua. It has also made contacts with churches in such places as Thailand, Burma, and even North Korea.
Founded in 1988, the program encourages correspondence between members
of the two churches, and sets out careful guidelines to avoid misunderstandings
or politically sensitive issues.
But ASSIST believes strongly that the western partner not only pray for the partner church, but supply part of its needs. Churches in Cuba, for example, have almost no access to Christian literature; pastors have few study books. Many churches meet in homes which have no pews for seating. Pastors have no means of transportation.
ASSIST encourages donors to send money to the mission rather than directly to the sister church. "We don't want them to come to a position where they become spoiled children and expect everything to be provided by the church here," declares a spokesperson. So the organization encourages donors to give to a general fund, and seeks to take care of distribution equitably.
Both sister-church programs are convinced that the western churches benefit from the prayers of their sister church, and experience spiritual growth, especially as visitors have the opportunity to see faith and love grow under suffering and persecution. The "hands on" involvement results in greater mission awareness and commitment at home.
Until models have developed and been tested by time, questions as to the effectiveness of this method will continue to be raised, and methods refined.
Will the energy and funds used to develop relationships between bodies of believers actually bring about additional church planting and outreach?
Will the concentrated involvement of the church people and the personal expenses of individual families in travel restrict the broader missions program of the church?
Can a relationship between a materially wealthy western church and a materially poor two-thirds world Church develop without paternalism and a "sugar daddy" complex on one side, and envy and dependency on the other?
Or are these questions simply a reflection of our paternalistic attitudes emerging again?
Church-based teams are another innovative way to harness the involvement and interest of a larger percentage of a congregation. Led by a highly committed senior pastor, the church recruits, trains and sends out a team of its own members to a target city or area.
More and more churches seem to want greater control over their missionaries, and greater contact with them. The fleeting visit of a missionary making the rounds on furlough makes it difficult for the people in the church to develop a meaningful relationship, or a committed prayer base. Church-based teams offer an opportunity to fill both these needs.
With a growing number of countries restricting career missionaries, particularly in Muslim areas, tent-making is one of the few ways to establish a permanent base. But tent-making can be a dangerously lonely ministry when there is no local church or fellowship, and no missionary support nearby. Tim Lewis of Frontier Missions says he knows of few independent tent-makers able to stay in Muslim countries more than two years, even when they are relatively successful in terms of ministry.
The church-based team provides close family support, on the field as
well as from the home base as the congregation focuses its prayers, gifts,
and communications on their brothers and sisters on the front line.
As one pastor from such a church states, "The whole church is the team."
Sending a church team out together has probably been tried in various degrees of success and failure in past years. But since the late 80s the idea has developed with more urgency and purpose. The Antioch Network, a loose fellowship of about 20 churches, was incorporated in 1989, to help churches investigate the concept, share vision, success stories and failures.
Antioch Network grew out of the vision of George Miley, former Operation Mobilization director of the LOGOS and DOULOS ships. Interaction with missionaries and local churches resulted in the conviction that fresh, innovative approaches to world evangelization were needed. As a speaker on missions in a wide variety of churches, George found that others were dreaming too—and the idea of church sponsored teams planting churches among unreached people crystallized.
A church in Austin, Texas, (not identified for security reasons) has
had a team in the Middle East since 1987. Team members have established
legitimate reasons for living in the country and even while concentrating
on language study, have been able to develop friendships in the community.
On his first visit to research the target community, the pastor and several of his church members were arrested and held for questioning by local police because of contacts they had made.
"I have the impression the Lord allowed that to happen to sensitize us to the dangers and make us more careful in the future," the pastor explains.
The team had been prepared for its ministry through training programs at the church, such as the US Center Perspectives course and supervised practical work on the church staff. With the pastor's experience fresh in their minds, elaborate security measures have been put in place which adds to the danger of feeling isolated.
However, the church has taken its responsibility to the team seriously. The missions pastor communicates frequently by phone or fax, and he and members of the church visit the team each year. For several years a summer team visited the target city, with a host couple renting an apartment so that relays of church members could stay for a few weeks holiday at reasonable cost. The idea was not to evangelize but to mobilize and maintain the vision, which would naturally drop off in time.
The Texas church has maintained a high rate of interest, with between 30-40 percent of the members financially involved in the project. About 50 percent of the church's mission budget is dedicated to the team. Even though team members will eventually be self-supporting within the country, travel, medical insurance and other such costs are the church's responsibility.
This church chose to work outside a mission agency partly because no agency was able at the time to incorporate the team concept. Other churches who have sent teams have been able to work through an agency, and one even has a representative on the agency's board to solidify the partnership.
Are the teams successful? Miley says, "The book hasn't been written yet on how we plant churches in Muslim countries . . . But our commitment must be to constant innovation in all areas. In order for this to exist there must be tolerance of well-intended failures and we must support persistent champions of innovation."
Church-based teams require the total vision of the senior pastor and the ability to mobilize the congregation's long-term commitment. One danger is that if the pastor leaves the church, the team could be stranded if the successor does not share the vision. Unless a high percentage of the congregation has bought into the vision, many in the congregation will feel left out and frustrated that so much energy in the church is concentrated on one project.
The strategy is costly in time and energy. Though some churches feel they can send their missionaries "cheaper" than through an agency, they must honestly examine the hidden costs of staff time, administration as well as travel costs for church members who visit the field at their own expense.
But those who have taken the risk and sent out a church-based team have
found the benefits deeply gratifying. The atmosphere in the church resembles
that of a family where a member is serving overseas. Every letter is avidly
shared; personal events and disappointments become intimate matters of
prayer. Family members can share failures as well as successes, so if one
of the team is homesick or depressed, he or she doesn't fear revealing
that to the family at home.
The prayer power is unmatched. Every traditional missionary has some faithful prayer partners in the various churches which supports him. But few have the strength of a "Nehemiah group" as one church-based team has. The pastor of this Arizona sending church writes, "For several years we have required that every outgoing missionary surround himself or herself with a group of ten praying adults (a couple would have 20). This Nehemiah prayer group covenant to (1) pray regularly—daily—for the specific needs of their missionaries; (2) write regularly—monthly—to keep all parties well informed; (3) foster an ongoing friendship with their missionary through phone calls, care packages, and even personal visits when possible, and (4) encourage other Nehemiah prayer group members to do the same."
When the first team members on the field decided to stay past their second year so they could solidify their language gains, they wrote back home to the pastor, "Please send us some comfort—send someone from our Nehemiah group to visit."
And after an especially trying time of depression the team member expressed deep gratitude and victory after hearing how the Nehemiah group had prayed for him.
In spite of the tremendous benefits gained by the church, the question
still remains, will these inexperienced and isolated teams
be able to hold out in the face of hostility and isolation? And more
importantly, will they be able to plant a viable church in a hostile Muslim
Tim Lewis voices grave doubts. "On the field the local [western] church has very little relevance to the problems of planting churches in Muslim restricted access situations. . . . we have learned so much in the eight years of our existence that I really have to say that we're light years ahead of the ability to support and coach a team doing that on the field, over a local church, no matter how committed."
To by-pass or not to by-pass the agency?
Today's missions committees have become more knowledgeable about missions and many larger churches have a full-time missions pastor on their staff. They have asked more questions and analyzed the effectiveness of missionaries and their agencies. Generally this has encouraged agencies and missionaries to be more even more accountable and has helped churches to better understand the complexities of the problems and challenged on the field.
But to some extent, it has also created tension between the two entities—sometimes even a "we-they" attitude. Churches want more jurisdiction over the missionaries they support; agencies feel local churches are too demanding and sometimes naive about their expectations. On the whole it has been a healthy productive tension in the broadest mission partnerships in the world—the local churches and the sending agencies.
However, as the innovative partnerships we've discussed in this chapter indicate, there is a growing trend to by-pass the agency and deal directly with the missionary or the national church on the field. Obviously mission agencies will never disappear in favor of church-based teams, nor will churches give up trying their own innovative approaches. But in every case, the pros and cons have to carefully analyzed to make sure this is the most effective way to plant the church and develop disciples on any given field.
Advantages of the local church based mission program
1. Many churches desire greater autonomy and ownership of their missionary outreach. They see great advantages in recruiting missionaries whom they know well and who share the same goals and visions. They want the missionaries responsible to them, and they would like to work directly with the national church on the field.
2. When the missionaries are home, they can spend quality time with the local church, developing close relationships. In turn members of the congregation will maintain a personal interest with the missionaries when they return to the field, and gives everyone in the church a greater sense of ownership of the project. Mission giving goes up as a result
3. Intense, regular, personal prayer support develops. Missionaries can share their intimate problems and their failures as well as successes because of the secure relationships, and can depend on committed prayer warriors.
4. Communication from the field improves because the missionary or national ministry only has to write to one supporting prayer group.
5. The team or the national ministry has the sense of belonging and being well cared for, because the church can concentrate on their needs.
6. Churches involved in direct ministries believe they are saving the agency costs of servicing the missionary. Some say they save at least 20 percent by sending the missionary out themselves.
Advantage of the agency-based ministry
1. Most agencies have years of experience in church planting, in the customs and regulations of the country, and in how to handle legal matters for the missionaries. They have developed sound missiological principles and a deeper understanding of relations with the church.
2. An agency can provide more consistent monitoring and supervision of the work on the field, and give moral and spiritual support when it is needed.
3. A mission agency's goals and policies remain constant and do not change as readily as a local church's when leadership changes.
4. Mission agencies have developed networks with others doing similar work around the world, and have been able to exchange ideas, successes and failures.
5. The mission agency staff handles such time-consuming business matters as taxes, receipting, insurance, retirement, etc. It has standard procedures for recruiting, and evaluation. These and many other services must be repeated by each individual church which by-passes the agency, putting additional strain on the local staff.
6. Mission agencies have a broader financial base than the local church, enabling them to pool resources. This is especially important for smaller churches which would not be able to support even one missionary fully on their own.
7. By utilizing agencies and sharing in the partial support for various ministries, churches can broaden their mission involvement to meet the interests of everyone in the congregation.
A pastor who is very involved in a church-based team reflects on these tensions. "I think that both local churches and mission agencies can't quite believe that the other one would be willing to partner in this way," he observes. "I think we will see in the next two or three years a coming together of mission agencies and local churches on a much stronger basis."
Perhaps these two long-standing bastions of mission work will themselves come up with some innovative partnerships for the 21st century.
The SIM/ELWA and Latin American CLAME models
The SIM/ECWA Model
Since the mid-fifties SIM (once known as the Sudan Interior Mission) and the Evangelical Church of West Africa, the daughter church spawned in Nigeria, have been autonomous bodies. Today the 2500 churches are led by a strong board of African leaders, with Rev. Panya Baba as the chairman. ECWA has its own mission board, the Evangelical Mission Society, with over 800 African missionaries working cross-culturally, most fully supported by ECWA.
Serving on the church board is one SIM missionary who acts as liaison officer between the church and the 115 SIM expatriate missionaries in the country. SIM missionaries are invited by ECWA to serve in Nigeria. ECWA handles visa requests for the SIM missionaries who are asked to teach at their missionary training school, to fill specialized roles in other institutions and to start new ministries approved by the church in unreached areas. Now ECWA wants to more intensely target the cities and has asked SIM to assign missionaries to urban evangelism projects. In this ministry Nigerians and western missionaries will team up to form an evangelism partnership.
The church, however, does not want the responsibility for handling personnel
matters. In essence the church said, "We don't understand your cultural
background. You know all about the relationships with the churches in your
countries so would you please continue to do that."
Taking over the large institutions the mission had spawned was a great challenge for the church. One of the major programs that continued was the network of bookshops, some 36 in all. Harold Fuller, Deputy General Director of SIM, explained how this turnover was effected.
"We didn't have pastors run the bookshops because pastors shouldn't be running bookshops or hospitals. We set up a board under the trusteeship of the church with key Nigerian laymen on it. One of them was the Nigerian Trade Commissioner to the UN. This is the caliber of person they had," Fuller explains.
When it came to the printing press, ECWA asked for a missionary who had been the general manager "because he knows the work and can help developing others."
Fuller explained that whereas the manager had been in charge of the publishing, he now took orders from the Nigerian board. "But he was a man with a very good perspective on national capabilities. He had worked well alongside the church so he had no problems working under a national board. He had the right mindset," Fuller stated.
Though the SIM/ECWA model has developed to the place where the church eagerly welcomes missionaries and the mission feels it is fulfilling a needed role in the country, the transition was not always smooth. "It was about a ten-year process," Fuller recalls. Though some transitions are bumpier than others, certain problems seem to be common to all in one degree or another.
Western missionaries inherited a paternalistic role in which they expected everything to continue to run in the way they had started it. What would happen to the beautiful buildings and the expensive equipment if nationals took over? What would donors think if they saw their sacrificial gifts misused?
Who would handle the books? Because of the holistic world view in many cultures, money is not compartmentalized as it is in the West. What would happen to accountability?
Many missionaries struggled through the process of transition. An attitude of equal partnership was farthest from their minds at that stage.
In fact, it was hard to give up a sense of ownership of the ministries which grew out of their vision, whose funds came through their hard work and prayers, and which were run with western efficiency.
At the same time nationalistic feelings and pride stirred national leaders
to demand leadership. It was finally in the open—the mistrust, bitterness
and resentment over years of domination.
On the other hand many nationals feared letting go of the umbilical cord. As one African leader explained, "We always felt that the white missionaries were our masters."
And the older, less educated leadership in the church feared not only the insecurity of letting go of the mission, but the changes and threats to their position which would come as younger, more educated national leadership took charge.
CLAME Model in Latin America
Mike Berg, former director of the Latin American Mission recalls a missionary of another agency asking for suggestions as to how to form a partnership with the national ministries they'd started. "We've been watching you folks," he said, "and we'd like to do what you're doing in a couple of years."
The Latin American missionary laughed and said, "We've been working at this forty years you know."
The Latin American Mission went through the tensions of transition much earlier than most independent faith missions. Founder Ken Strachan pushed Latin evangelists to the fore in the 20s. By 1945 the church was a completely autonomous body.
But the mission had also spawned a network of far-reaching institutions—a seminary, radio station, schools, publishing house. By 1970 LAM decided in consultation with these ministries to give each its autonomy under a partnership umbrella, the Community of Latin American Evangelical Ministries (CLAME).
Under the CLAME process, ministries were released to national leadership and LAM served primarily as an employment agency, recruiting and sending missionaries as requested by the various institutions. In the early years of the partnership the CLAME office was busy handling property transfers, and fulfilling certain services for the partners, such as accounting and public relations. There were high hopes that the institutions would receive large sums of money, but they soon found that LAM had no "pot at the end of the rainbow" which could now be disbursed to the other partners.
As the partners grew stronger and their leadership became more experienced, they became less dependent upon LAM and each other. Though still depending upon LAM for personnel and finances, they also developed other sources for their needs.
On the one hand, LAM grappled with its own purpose and redefinition of its role. There was less demand for LAM missionaries as the agencies became more self-sufficient. Would there soon be no need for LAM?
On the other hand there was disappointment that the agencies continued to be totally immersed in the development and operation of their own institutions and did not become a missionary outreach. As a result LAM began redefining its role and developed its own "Christ for the City" program in which LAM missionaries by invitation of local churches concentrated on evangelism and church planting in major cities of Latin America.
In 1985 CLAME dissolved—not in failure and disagreement—but because the partnership was no longer needed. Each of the agencies which survived, were strong and functioning. And as so often happens with brothers and sisters in a family, they didn't really have time or interest to keep up with the rest of the family. They had developed their own sources of personnel and funding. much of it within their own countries.
SIM , Latin American Mission, and the dozens of other faith missions that have moved from paternalism to partnership have discovered basic principles that would have made the move easier.
Prepare People with Partnership in Mind
Missionaries going to the mission field today need to be intellectually and emotionally prepared not only to share leadership, but to take a servant role. Their greatest joy should be to see the national church develop leadership and initiative. At the same time western partners will constantly be looking for ways to fill the gaps, meet needs, inspire vision and stretch beyond the abilities of the local church.
National church leaders need to learn to look upon western missionaries as partners, not patrons; co-workers not competitors.
Be Open with Everything
Keeping finances and decision making processes secret simply insures misunderstanding. Partners must be open with each other if they are going to trust each other.
Harold Fuller recalls an experience while working in Lagos with a Nigerian who had his Ph.D. When Fuller finally was willing to reveal his income, the Ph. D. was surprised to realize that he was not a well-paid expatriate after all.
CLAME members would never have looked for the “pot of gold” if they had understood LAM's financial policies from the beginning. If we are afraid to reveal our finances, is it perhaps because our policies need changing?
Begin to Develop a Board of Nationals Right from the Beginning
Serving on a board is a great learning experience for everyone. People learn how others think, and how they make decisions by working through problems together. This is one of the most supportive non-directive means of stimulating leadership maturity.
How board members are selected is also important. The national church, not the mission, knows who will best represent it. Mission appointed board members are often looked upon simply as lackeys.
Define the Role of the Original Mission Clearly
While SIM retained its right to survey new areas and work with the church in developing new outreach, LAM allowed itself to be put in a simple servant role of supplying personnel and money. Since the most successful partnerships are between two or more independent organizations who share the same goal, LAM found its role frustrating and unsatisfying after a time. Its goal to see the church expand into unreached areas of Latin America was being thwarted by the internal goals of the CLAME institutions. Fortunately LAM was able to make a mid-course correction, which, had the partnership continued, would most likely have been a complementary role in the partnership.
Be Willing to Take Risks
One of the greatest risks in the world is parenthood. After investing twenty years of work, tears, emotional energy and prayer in a child, there is no guarantee that we will rejoice in the outcome. But C. S. Lewis describes the alternative to love in his book, The Four Loves.
If you want to make sure of not getting hurt . . . carefully wrap it with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in a casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside heaven where your heart cannot be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is hell.Missions and national churches have also found that exchanging a parenting relationship for a partnering role involves risks. What will happen when unilateral leadership is replaced by joint consultations? What if the results of discussions go contrary to our plans and priorities? What if financial accountability takes second place to culturally accepted monetary practices? What if autonomy opens the door to new ideas, unacceptable influences, even doctrinal shifts?
The Latin American Mission took these risks, and in the process lost one of its partner agencies, the Latin American Seminary, as liberation theology pervaded its staff.
The national church may risk losing its cultural identity, its accepted decision making practices and even some financial freedom when it partners with the agency that spawned it.
But the determination to maintain unilateral leadership, decision making power, and financial control by the mission or the church may be the greatest risk of all.
Mainline Denominational Models
Mainline denominations have grappled with the question of partnership even longer than the independent mission agencies. In 1947, the International Missionary Council which met at Whitby, Ontario proclaimed the rallying cry "partnership in obedience". And to their credit, mainline denominations took their responsibility of fellowship and fraternal involvement with the “younger” churches seriously.
Presbyterian Church - United States
But many mainline churches have suffered declining membership in recent years, and their mission agencies continue to lose numbers. For example, twenty five years ago one branch of the Presbyterian Church, the PCUS, had over 1000 missionaries. Today, in spite of the amalgamation of three American branches of the Presbyterian Church, its total missionary force numbers only a few hundred.
While part of this decline was due to theological shifts, a major force was the philosophical change which took place after World War II. In desiring to give the national church greater autonomy and self direction, missionaries became part of the overseas church to fulfill the goals of the national church rather than the goals of the mission board. Most denominational missionaries were no longer actively involved in evangelism and church planting, but were able to serve only if invited by national churches who generally requested their help to strengthen their own programs.
A former Presbyterian missionary explains the philosophy. "We have a church in every country, so we do whatever they want us to do. We send missionaries if they invite us. We don't force missionaries on them who are going to do something they don't want to do."
Where the overseas church was vital and alive, this resulted in an even stronger church and an effective partnership. Presbyterian missionaries in Korea worked under mature and visionary Korean leadership who valued their contributions as the church grew rapidly.
In his book, The Last Age of Missions, Dr. Larry Keyes quotes part of Presbyterian missionary Samuel Moffett's 1971 prayer letter from Korea
"The Korea [sic] Presbyterian Church already has nineteen missionaries spread from Ethiopia to Brazil and more are waiting to go . . . . The seminary has just sent one of its best professors, Dr. Park Chang-Hwan, the foremost Bible translator in Korea, as this country's first missionary to Indonesia" (p. 11).Indeed, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Presbyterian missionaries and the Korean church partnered to build up one of the fastest growing and rapidly developing mission-minded churches in the world.
However, where national Presbyterian churches lack such mature and visionary leadership, they seem to "use" the missionaries for their own ends. In some Muslim countries, the church demonstrates little ability to reach out to Muslims, and most of the missionaries are invited to work in service organizations or care for missionary personnel.
A small church could limit Presbyterian outreach throughout the country. The Chilean church, with approximately 1000 active Presbyterians, determines whether Presbyterian missionaries can work with other organizations in the country or develop new ministries there.
A Presbyterian missionary refers to this as "nationalized paternalism. As we nationalized the church, the nationals became paternalistic."
Today the primary focus of missions in the Presbyterian church is partnership—a give and take between presbyteries and churches of different countries. "We are discovering that we no longer can use such language as sending and receiving, donors and recipients," says Bruce Gannaway, associate director for Partnership in Mission, Global Mission United. "One day it will be enough to say simply, 'We share in the common resources that Christ has given us for missions.'"
Partnerships include such activities as exchange visits for study and service and evangelism and new church development, with a strong commitment to ecumenical unity and dialogue.
A New Methodist Mission
The Methodist Church has faced the same decline in membership and missionaries. But in 1984 Methodists concerned about the lack of evangelism and outreach through the church's mission board established a separate mission agency, the United Methodist Society.
H. T. Maclin, director of the United Methodist Society (UMS), served
as a missionary with the Methodist Board. When he left Nairobi in 1971,
Emmanuel, his African colleague and dearest friend came to see him off.
Maclin commented on what a great day this was because "we've now become
completely nationalized, working in harmony and partnership with each other."
Emmanuel responded with words that Maclin will never forget, "As long as the world stands, we'll need each other."
With these words still ringing in his ears fifteen years later, Maclin helped start the United Methodist Society, recognizing that the church is enriched by sharing each other's experiences and lives.
Within a few months after the Society's founding, the Ghanaian Methodist Church appealed for help. The church had doubled in the previous eight years and desperately needed Theological Education by Extension trainers. Within a few years the United Methodist Society had seventeen missionaries working in partnership with the church in Ghana.
A unique opportunity for sending an international team developed in Brazil. The Brazilian Methodist Church wanted to begin a ministry in neighboring Paraguay where only 2.5 percent of the population is evangelical. A pastor born in Paraguay had been working in Brazil for fifteen years, but was now ready to return to his homeland to begin a church-planting ministry. Would the UMS help with his support?
At the same time an American Spanish-speaking couple, who had worked in Bolivia for many years before returning to the United States, was excited to learn about the opportunities in Paraguay. Sent out by the UMS, they are working with the Paraguayan pastor under the administrative oversight of the Brazilian Methodist Church.
Recognizing that salary differences could cause problems, the Society and the Brazilian church worked out an equitable arrangement. UMS sets the salary for its missionaries and helps them raise the funds, but the Brazilian church determines the allowance to be received on the field for both the Brazilian and American missionaries. The difference is held in an account in the USA for the couple's use when they return.
Southern Baptists Grow
Over a ten year period Southern Baptist missionaries grew from 2667 to 3432, a 2.84 percent yearly increase (Crawley, Winston, Global Mission, Broadman Press, Nashville, Tenn., 1985, p, 382). Part of the reason may be that all Southern Baptist churches have a commitment to world missions. Another strong influence may be that the mission board continues to see its primary role as evangelism and church planting. While missionaries are expected to cooperate and be part of the local church, and consultation on every decision is vital, "the mission and the conventions as separate entities cooperate without either exercising control over the other," according to Winston Crawley, who wrote Global Mission, an official interpretation of Southern Baptist Foreign Missions (SBFMB).
The process of developing independent bodies of Baptist churches or conventions varies from country to country. Dr. Keith Parks, president of the SBFMB, explains, "As the local Baptist organization assumes a stronger responsibility . . . for the denominational or convention development of institutions. . . the mission gradually withdraws itself from leadership roles and moves back into an outreach arm of that convention."
But Parks admits, "Although it can be stated briefly and simply, the complexities are tremendous . . . it becomes a very complex and sometimes a very painful process."
While the SBFMB is moving into new countries at the rate of more than two a year, where fresh, new relationships and ideal policies can be attempted, in some older fields the lines have been rigidly drawn so that neither the church nor the mission finds it easy to change.
In one southern African country, the convention has gelled into an inward-looking body whose elderly leadership is protective of position and fearful of change, especially by youth. The missionaries are bound to channel any financial or personnel assistance through the convention. When a younger group of spiritually alive and visionary leaders began planting churches, the convention cut them off—and the missionaries could not help.
As Parks warned, retreating from leadership and decision-making can
be "a painful process."
But in other parts of the world new and exciting cross cultural opportunities face the SBFMB. In 1985 the board called for a conference of representatives of conventions who have sent or have the potential to send their own missionaries, to discuss partnering in cross-cultural mission.
The Brazilian Convention, for example, has sent over 100 missionaries into 18 countries. It is now consulting with the SBFMB about working together in Venezuela.
Portuguese-speaking Brazilian missionaries in Angola could stay in the former Portuguese colony when Southern Baptist missionaries had to leave because of political developments. The SBFMB could continue to partner financially with the Brazilian missionaries there, to keep the ministry going until the situation changes and their missionaries can return.
The goal of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board seems to differ from other denominations, in that it sees its involvement in the strengthening of the institutions and building up the infrastructure of the denomination as temporary. Keith Parks explains, "As they reach a beginning level of maturity, our feeling is that the training of local leaders and the publication of materials needs to continue, but that really our great burden is to be out on the cutting edge of spreading the Kingdom."
Parks, however, reiterates the partnership roles. "As quickly as they
begin to emerge where they can do it, then we become partners with them
as they focus more on the development of the denomination and the training
and literature and institutions, and we become their partner in outreach
beyond what they could do without our being there."
Other creative denominational partnerships
Assemblies of God
Another growing denomination, the 16-million member Assemblies of God Church, doubles its worldwide membership every six years. Each of the 80 national church bodies are completely autonomous and independent.
They are also aggressively reaching out in missions, and this has brought about the need for greater coordination.
Phil Hogan, retired Executive Director of the Assemblies of God-USA, helped form the International Fellowship of Assemblies of God, as a "platform for coordination".
Hogan illustrates the need by pointing to the Assemblies of God Church in Ecuador which has been growing rapidly in recent years. "But now the Assemblies of God of Brazil sends in three missionaries to work in Ecuador. Their next door neighbor, the Assemblies of God of Venezuela, sends one couple across the border. The Japanese, believe it or not, send two couples. . . The Ecuadorian Assemblies of God says, 'Hey, wait a minute. You know, we're glad to have you; the country needs you, but we need some coordinating.'"
Presbyterian Church of America
Avoiding duplication of effort was one of the main reasons behind the Presbyterian Church of America's (PCA) Mission to the World. In 1974 John Kyle helped start Mission to the World which forms cooperative agreements with other mission agencies, assigning PCA personnel to agencies that can use their skills.
Mission to the World helps to find the right "fit," offers prayer support and assistance in fund raising. The partner agency takes over the administrative and ministry responsibilities on the field.
Four years after the mission started, Kyle himself became a cooperative missionary with Wycliffe, (with whom he'd served ten years earlier,) and later served as Vice President of InterVarsity and Director of Urbana. Now he's back with his first love, fitting the church's young people into ministry spots overseas where they can function best.
John admits, "My parents should have named me John C. Kyle—instead of John E.—C standing for cooperation."
John had been an ordained Presbyterian minister in good standing with his denomination, but serving with Wycliffe, he was not recognized as a missionary. Therefore when the PCA split off from the Presbyterian Church USA, the new denomination immediately incorporated cooperative agreements.
"We have the best of two worlds," says John. "Mission to the World does not have medical work or aviation services, but we can put a pilot or doctor with an agency that needs them. They serve under the administration of the agency, but fall under the authority of Mission to the World for doctrinal beliefs or moral standards."
Over the years Mission to the World has developed a written working agreement between itself and the partner agency (see appendix). Since PCA is reformed in doctrine, to avoid tension on the field, Mission to the World missionaries are not placed as church planters with a non-reformed mission, but they can serve as service personnel.
How do the supporting PCA churches maintain a sense of ownership when their missionaries serve with many different agencies? This does not seem to be any more of a problem than with interdenominational missions. Kyle says they require regular reports from their missionaries, and make every effort to help the churches learn to know and trust the mission agencies represented.
True to his cooperative spirit, Kyle believes that many more denominations should be partnering in this way with other agencies, even to interchanging personnel where needed. Some, such as the United Methodist Society, already form agreements with other agencies, but it's an area of partnering that has barely been tapped.
From Partnership: the New
Direction in World Evangelism by Lorry Lutz and Luis Bush published
1990, InterVarsity Press
Lorry Lutz at the time of writing was Publications Director for Partners International. Lorry currently is International Director of the AD2000<> Women's Track.Luis Bush at the time of writing was International President of Partners International. Luis is now International Director of the AD2000 and Beyond Movement. Partners<> International is a recognized leader in partnering with indigenous Christian ministries in the non-Western world, linking resources from Christians in the West with Third-World agencies.
|AGP: Introduction | Adoption | Cooperation | Individual Involvement | Resources|